Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.

MACLEAN, Hester, R.R.C.

(1863–1932).

Nurse and administrator.

A new biography of Maclean, Hester appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

Hester Maclean was born in 1863 at Sofala, New South Wales, daughter of Harold Maclean, Comptroller-General of Prisons and of Emily, née Strong. She was educated at a private school in Sydney and did her training in general nursing at the Prince Alfred Hospital, graduating in 1893. For the next 12 years she held a number of senior nursing positions in Australia. She was for a time matron of Kogarah Cottage Hospital; matron of the Queen Victoria Hospital for Women and Children; matron of the Women's Hospital, Melbourne; matron of Bay View Hospital; and sister in charge of the District Nursing Associations in Melbourne and Sydney. In 1905 she obtained her midwifery C.M.B. Certificate in England. She was therefore well qualified to be appointed in 1906 as the successor to Grace Neill as Assistant Inspector of Hospitals and Deputy Registrar of Nurses and Midwives in New Zealand.

Hester Maclean took up office during a period of rapid expansion in health facilities and in the nursing services associated with them. It is therefore natural that she should have become particularly concerned with the development of public health services. During her 17 years in office she was associated with a number of nursing reforms. These included the inauguration of the first district nursing service at Uruti in Taranaki in 1909; legislation relating to an eight-hour day for student nurses; the extension of the facilities for the training of midwives; the training of Maori nurses to work among their own people; the appointment of the first school nurses by the Education Department in 1917; and reciprocity of registration with the General Nursing Council for England and Wales. In 1920 the internal structure of the Health Department was reorganised by Act of Parliament and Hester Maclean became Director of a newly created Division of Nursing. She retired from this position in 1923.

One of the many developments in nursing with which Hester Maclean was directly associated was that of the New Zealand Army Nursing Service. As early as 1908 a volunteer nursing service had been proposed but there was little development of the idea until the visit of Lord Kitchener to New Zealand in 1911 when concrete plans were laid for the setting up both of medical and nursing services for the army. Hester Maclean was gazetted as Matron in Chief in 1913, a position she held until her retirement from Government office. The first call on the newly created service came on 15 August 1914, when a small contingent of six nurses sailed with New Zealand troops to Samoa. Later, in April 1915, Hester Maclean left for England on the transport Rotorua with a contingent of 50 nurses who were to be assigned to military hospitals by the British War Office. These “first fifty” were ultimately stationed with units throughout Egypt and, after inspecting the hospitals in which they were working, the Matron in Chief returned to New Zealand in October 1915, where she continued to direct the activities of the Army Nursing Service. She was associated later with the setting up of the Nurses' Memorial Fund, which commemorates those nurses who died during the First World War and in the subsequent influenza epidemic. The fund is still used today to help nurses who require financial assistance.

It was not only in an official capacity that Hester Maclean gave valuable direction and leadership to New Zealand nursing but she served also as the forceful leader of a rapidly growing group of registered nurses who were interested in the promotion of nursing as a respectable profession. They wanted to form a central professional organisation which could formulate general policy; consolidate movements within the profession, and allow a free interchange of ideas. The first constructive step was taken at a dinner party in 1907 when Hester Maclean proposed that a journal should be produced to acquaint all nurses in New Zealand with new trends both at home and abroad. She undertook both the editorship and the expense of the production of the quarterly journal, and the first edition of Kai Tiaki, The Journal of the Nurses of New Zealand appeared in January 1908. She continued as owner and honorary editor until it was sold to the New Zealand Registered Nurses' Association in 1923. The association retained her services as salaried editor until her death, some years later.

It is probable that the concrete existence of a journal where ideas and news could be exchanged gave fresh impetus to the movement to form a national organisation. Also the passing of the Nurses' Registration Act in 1901 and the growth of training schools contributed to the development of a much more professional attitude towards nursing and its problems. In 1909, therefore, the New Zealand Trained Nurses' Association was established. It represented the amalgamation of the four separate organisations then existing in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin. A central council of four members was elected, one from each centre, and Hester Maclean became the first president of what is now known as the New Zealand Registered Nurses' Association. Affiliation with the International Council of Nurses followed a few years later. The story of her contribution to the development of professional nursing is recapitulated by each retiring president of the N.Z.R.N.A. in the Hester Maclean Oration, and is commemorated by the Hester Maclean Memorial Insignia, which is the badge of office of the Dominion president of the New Zealand Registered Nurses' Association.

Hester Maclean retired from public office in 1923. She was awarded the Royal Red Cross (First Class) in 1918, for her services in the organisation of the New Zealand Army Nursing Service, and the Florence Nightingale Medal in 1920. During her retirement she continued as the editor of the Kai Tiaki and in 1925 was appointed a member of the International Publication Committee of I.C.N. Her autobiography, Nursing in New Zealand, was written during this period and published in 1932. She died in Wellington on 2 September 1932.

Hester Maclean was a professional career woman in an age when this was rare. She had intelligence, energy, and foresight and it is clear that she recognised the considerable opportunities available for nurses in a newly developing country. She also realised the need for a powerful central organisation which would protect and consolidate their professional interests while at the same time promoting the growth of ideas in both nursing education and nursing service. She extended and strengthened the foundation already laid by Grace Neill so that subsequent developments in nursing took place on a broad stable basis. She has come to be recognised as one of the key figures in the history of the development of nursing in New Zealand.

by Nancy Joan Kinross, B.A.(N.Z.), M.SC.(BERKLEY), N.Z.DIP.NURSING, Supervising Matron, Southland Hospital, Invercargill.

  • Historical Development of Nursing in New Zealand, 1840–1946, N.Z. Department of Health (1947)
  • Nursing in New Zealand, Maclean, Hester (1932)
  • Kai Tiaki, Apr 1918
  • The New Zealand Nursing Journal, 15 Sep 1932 (Obit); Jun 1956; Jan 1958; Apr 1960.


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This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

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